Touring the Four Corners

Saturday, October 25, 2014

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I love Tohono Chul Park. There are so many reasons, but one is that they offer several trips each year run by Baja's Frontier Tours. This isn't one of the big organizations like Colette's or Globus. Baja's Frontier Tours is run by Piet and Mary Van de Mark and, when you travel with Mary and Piet, you feel like you're traveling with family. Travel is provided in one to three vans, depending on the size of the tour group, and is much friendlier than those big bus tours. We had only one van, so we all got to know one another really well over the course of five days.

Accompanying us was Mark Bahti, an expert in Indian arts. Mark kept up a running commentary on the places we visited and Navajo culture. He seemed to be able to answer any question we asked.

On our way to Cameron, we stopped at Montezuma Well, which is close to the much better known Montezuma's Castle. The well is fed by springs at the base of the pool and has been a constant supply of water for thousands of years. The Hohokum took advantage of it by building irrigation canals, which you can still see on the site today.

Our time was spent about equally between Navajo arts and culture and some of the most notable sites in the Southwest. We visited four or five trading posts, which varied from the primitive Shonto Trading Post to the very modern Twin Rocks. First, however, was the Cameron Trading Post and accompanying restaurant.

There's one thing you should know about Piet and Mary: they like to eat. There were times it seemed as if the tour route was planned around some of their favorite restaurants. Okay, not "seemed," but "was." This is not a bad thing. They've been touring and scouting for tours since 1962, and they know where to eat! We didn't have a single bad meal on the trip. I must admit, I did skip a couple of breakfasts in favor of an apple (bought when Mary suggested we stop at a Basha's for fruit--try getting one of those big tour companies to do that!) and a cereal bar because I'd eaten so much the night before.

I chose the Navajo Taco for dinner. It was recommended. It was also huge. What makes it Navajo is that the base in a huge piece of fry bread rather than a tortilla. This is topped with a mixture of meat and beans, kind of a chili, lettuce and cheese and onions, if I remember correctly. This was not the last Navajo taco available. In fact, Navajo taco seems to be a staple at most of the restaurants we went to. It was good, but impossible to finish.

The next day we stopped at the Shonto Trading post. While the Cameron Trading Post was huge and largely catered to touristy items (although there was a separate shop with more real Indian items to buy), Shonto was reminiscent of what a trading post was back in the early days.

As you can see, it's a simple one-story building with gas pumps outside. The restroom facilities consisted of a single porta-potty for which you had to get the key. It was the cleanest porta-potty I ever used. It looked like it had been recently scrubbed and emptied. No smell. No icky stuff.

I think the highlight of the Shonto Trading Post visit was the hogan. These traditional Navajo dwellings are one-room buildings, usually in a polygon shape, but sometimes circular or square. There is a single doorway and, in a traditional dwelling, the fire is at the center of the structure. In the one on the Shonto Trading Post, there was a fireplace built into one wall. There were two or three other hogans on the property, but they had fallen into disrepair. As we drove through the Navajo Nation, we saw plenty of hogans from the outside, but this was the only one we saw from the inside.

The destination for the afternoon was Monument Valley. Anyone who's seen a cowboy movie or two has seen Monument Valley on film. It was amazing in person. Unfortunately, the day was overcast, so the photos I got don't do it justice. The beautiful colors were muted by the lack of light. It was still an amazing sight, though.

Monument Valley is not a national park. It is a Navajo Tribal Park and sits entirely on the Navajo Reservation. It's also in the state of Utah. The Navajo Nation spans parts of three states: Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico.

From the parking lot of Goulding's Lodge, you can sign up for tours. Most of these are in open vehicles, which in the cool weather were obviously uncomfortable, as you could see people huddled up in their sweatshirts and jackets and not enjoying themselves very much at all. Since Piet has been off-roading for decades, he drove the van in.

This is where I became very grateful for tours like this. Being a born city girl, I get nervous when driving my Camry over well-packed dirt roads. There was no way I ever could have driven through the loose sand that made up the "roads" through Monument Valley. With Piet, there was no fear of driving off the road or getting stuck. I could just concentrate on the incredible formations.

Of course, it was cool to stop at John Ford's Point and know that he and John Wayne had probably stood in the same spot.

Looking the other way from John Ford's Point are the vendors.

This is a formation known as The Three Sisters.

Be careful of getting too close to the edge!

That's all for this week. We saw and did much too much for one blog post!

NaNoWriMo Update

No, I haven't forgotten about NaNo and my promise to keep you posted on what I'm doing. Up until this morning, I was really afraid all I was going to be able to write in November was the opening scene. It's the only one I had in my mind. It's a good scene, but I think I need more than one to make a novel.

Anyway, this morning I started free-writing with my coffee. Free-writing is just writing things down as they occur to you. You don't think about them much, don't edit them, ask yourself a lot of "what if" questions and toss ideas onto the paper. It's the only way I can make up stories. Some people see their whole novel in their heads or have dreams that tell them the story. Not me. I'm a writer--in more ways than one. Only by starting to put words on paper (and it usually does have to be paper, not a computer screen) do ideas start to flow for me.

So I've got a good base for the novel I'm going to write in a--WAIT! A WEEK? ONLY A WEEK UNTIL I HAVE TO START WRITING? EEEEEKKKKK!

Gotta go now. Gotta get working on this thing. See you next week.

Faith, Hope, and Murder Cover Reveal!

Monday, October 13, 2014

I loved the cover Karen Phillips did from Ed Mullins's photograph so much, I decided Faith, Hope, and Murder needed a new design as well. Ed graciously made not one, but two trips to get exactly the photo Karen needed to match my concept, then modified it and added the same style title so the books look like part of a series, which is what they are. I love the new cover!

Baby Elephant at the Reid Park Zoo

Saturday, October 11, 2014

One of the biggest stories of the past couple of months was the birth of Nandi, the baby elephant at Reid Park Zoo. Now almost two months old, I wanted to get to see her before she was all grown up. After two days of rain from a passing tropical storm, I woke up Friday morning to sun and temperatures in the high sixties--perfect for going to visit the Zoo!

Of course, as I was showering and getting dressed, I was singing Tom Paxton's "Going to the Zoo". This isn't Tom, but it will give you the idea:

Nandi had a tendency to stay close to Mom, preferably on the shady side, which happened to be away from the people, but I did manage to get some good pictures of her.  This one is her walking between Mom and Dad.

In this one, Nandi was dawdling, so Dad rounded her up and pushed her with his trunk to catch up with her mother.

There are six elephants at the Reid Park Zoo. Five of them are a family, but there's one guy who is not the child of the Mom and Dad. I felt kind of sorry for him, because he tended to stay off the the side and looked left out. This is one of Nandi's older brothers, whom I nicknamed Cool Joe. Notice the crossed rear legs. Now that I think about it, the reference should have been Joe Cool (from Peanuts).

Yes, I did stop and visit some of the other animals while I was there. There were a couple of cranes.

A rhino who spent most of the morning taking mud baths.

And the giraffes.

But, like everyone else recently, I spent most of my time with the elephants.

NOTE: You can click on the pictures to see larger versions.

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Yes, it's that time again! If you've found your way to this page, there's a good chance you were searching for NaNoWriMo and already know what it is. In case you don't, here's a short history. Fifteen years ago, Chris Baty was like a lot of us: he was always going to write a novel "someday." Novelists were cool. Novelists were famous. Most of all, novelists got dates. (Shows what he knew!)

But, also like most of us, he never seemed to get started on writing that novel, much less finishing it. He was a successful freelance writer, successful being defined as not sleeping on a park bench, with many articles published in well-known newspapers and magazines. He knew he was good at that, so why wasn't he any good at writing that novel?

Chris decided what he needed was a deadline. Instead of "someday," he needed to be able to say "when." So he came up with this idea of writing a novel in a month. He'd start writing on day one and finish with "The End" on the last day of the month. He also knew he'd be better motivated if he told people that's what he was doing. Better yet, he managed to round up twenty of his closest friends and persuaded them to do this with him.

And discovered that the whole insanity of starting with nothing but a dream and winding up with a 50,000 word novel in a month was fun! When your goal is to write 1667 words a day every day for thirty days, you do get a little crazy. You don't have time to mull over which of five scenes you should write next or what the meaning of life is. You need to keep typing. (Or even writing longhand, which some do.) Your goal isn't to write great literature. Your goal is to get the book done.

I owe a lot to NaNoWriMo. I am a perfectionist at heart. I wanted very much to write a novel, but every time I started, I was dismayed that the words I put on the page (or screen) were clunky, awkward, boring, and not at all like the novels I loved to read. And so I despaired. NaNoWriMo gave me permission to write crap and keep going. My goal wasn't to write The Great Gatsby. My goal was to type 50,000 words and get to the end of the story, however awful it was. When I "won" my first NaNo ten years ago, I had a great sense of satisfaction. I proved to myself I could write a novel, a very bad novel, but a novel nevertheless.

I've learned a lot about writing over the past ten years. I've not only written multiple novels and "won" NaNoWriMo several times, I'm about to publish my second novel. I've retired from the "day job" and become a full-time writer. I am living my dream.

NaNoWriMo allows me to experiment, to try different ways of writing a novel. This was very important in the beginning, when I had no idea what my method was. I've swung back and forth between "plotter" (someone who plans every scene ahead of time) and "pantser" (someone who writes by the seat of their pants with no idea what comes next until they start typing it) and many variations in between.

I've discovered I need at least a bare-bones outline when sitting down to write my novels. Otherwise, I either go blank or wander down bunny trails that have nothing to do with the story. The amount of revision I had to do on Shadow of Death taught me this lesson. I had to fill in those blanks and cut out the bunny trails to make it a good story. In order to write a novel in November, I need to do lots of preparation this month. So I'll be chronicling my preparation for NaNo, as well as my progress writing when it starts on November 1st. Like Chris Baty, I find it helpful to tell someone what I'm doing in order to stick with it.

So far, I've created a "series Bible" based on my NaNo novel from last year. I've gone through that novel and created character sheets for each of the characters (I was pantsing more than usual, so would throw in eye color or former occupation as I got to a scene), collected the maps I printed out, and organized what I know about these people and the locations in which the story takes place.

I have a little inkling of an idea of how the victim is killed, but not much more than that. I don't know whodunnit, why, or how my sleuth figures it out. I'm going to be spending a lot of time this month trying to answer those questions.

Okay, so she knows what she's doing, you're thinking. What about me? I never wrote a novel before. How do I get started?

Fortunately, there are lots of places to get help. The NaNoWriMo web site is one of those places. As usual, they're running behind in updating the site this year. (It's mostly volunteers and the whole program is free, so it's amazing they do as much as they do.) But I've subscribed to the newsletter for ages, and they've sent links to pages that aren't obvious on the site. One is the general NaNoWriMo prep page. This page has a whole list of helpful links about how to get started.

Another is the Workbooks they've put together for their Young Writers Program. If you've never written a novel before, I'd recommend downloading the High School version for help with planning your novel.

And Alexandra Sokoloff is doing her annual NaNo Prep series on her blog. Each day in October, she outlines the tasks you should be working on in order to be ready to write on November 1st.

Of course, if you're a pantser, you'll do your preparation by stocking up on snacks and caffeine, locating a writer-friendly coffee shop, and sharpening a few pencils.

Most of all, remember NaNo is supposed to be fun! If you start stressing at any point in the process, remind yourself your novel is not going to be The Great Gatsby. But it is going to be amazing!
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